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There has a long been a debate about cropland. From one perspective, we need it to satisfy our nutritional needs, but from another, it takes away much-needed land from nature and animal life and often produces a high environmental footprint.
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A new study
Now, a new study in the journal Nature Sustainability is revealing that we may just be able to produce the same amount of food using half the cropland. The study is led by researcher Christian Folberth and his colleagues at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.
The scientists reveal a scenario that brings the crop yields of farmers in poorer countries up to those in richer countries. "Here we show on the basis of crop modeling that closing current yield gaps by spatially optimizing fertilizer inputs and allocating 16 major crops across global cropland would allow reduction of the cropland area required to maintain present production volumes by nearly 50% of its current extent."
This scenario would free up about 576 million hectares, allowing the land to restore its natural purpose. "As a co-benefit, greenhouse gas emissions from fertilizer and paddy rice, as well as irrigation water requirements, are likely to decrease with a reduced area of cultivated land, while global fertilizer input requirements remain unchanged," wrote the authors.
A second scenario
The researchers even offer a second scenario where cropland is abandoned in biodiversity hotspots, and 20% of the cropland area is uniformly released for other landscape elements. This scenario, argue the researchers, "would still enable reducing the cropland requirement by almost 40%."
These scenarios are extremely promising, and they do not even take into consideration new advanced technologies or shifts in consumption toward alternative protein sources such as plant-based meats, which naturally require less cropland. The paper paints a much-welcomed positive future for cropland cultivation and management.